Ambassadors from the EU's 28 member states agreed in principle on Friday to launch a joint military operation in the CAR, aimed at securing the capital Bangui and protecting refugees and aid workers from fighting between Christian and Muslim militias.
According to the current EU proposal, there is a "pressing need" to restore security in order to "avoid the CAR sliding towards complete state failure on the previous Somalia model, and large scale massacres against the civilian population."
Unnamed diplomatic sources told the AFP news agency that up to 1,000 troops could be deployed to the CAR. It's unclear which nations would contribute. A final decision will be made on January 20 when the EU's foreign ministers meet in Brussels.
France urges EU support
France has been urging its allies to send money and reinforcements since December. Paris has deployed 1,600 troops to support around 4,000 African peacekeepers in the CAR. But the modestly sized force has been unable to stem the communal violence and resulting humanitarian crisis in a country the size of France itself.
"What we need is a presence at specific points, such as the airport," French President Francois Hollande said in December.
"What I would like to see politically is a European presence," Hollande said. "That it not be said that 'France is alone.'"
Several European nations - Belgium, Britain, Germany, Poland, Spain and the Netherlands - have already offered logistical support. But up until now, EU leaders have reacted coolly to the idea of deploying boots on the ground. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that Paris would have to involve the EU in the operational decision making.
"We cannot finance a military mission if we are not included in the decision-making process," Merkel said last month.
Meanwhile, CAR interim President Michel Djotodia stepped down on Friday under pressure from the regional bloc, the Economic Community of Central African States (EECAS). The country's 135-member National Transitional Council now has to elect a president.
The Seleka rebel group ousted former President Francois Bozize in a coup last March, installing Djotodia as the CAR's first Muslim head of state. Djotodia ordered the largely Muslim Seleka group to disband in September. But renegade factions within the group went on a killing, rape and looting spree. Christian groups formed militias in response as communal violence escalated.
In December, the violence killed at least 1,000 people. According to the UN, nearly one milion people have been displaced by the conflict. In the capital Bangui, half the population - some 350,000 people - has been displaced. An estimated 100,000 people have crowded into a camp near the airport outside of Bangui.
slk/jm (AFP, dpa, Reuters)